February 16, 2015

A New Book On Culture and Law In Jewish Tradition

News received via Susan Sage Heinzelman, UT, Austin:

Newly published:
Roberta Kwall, The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition (Oxford,2015).

Below are the cover comments by Dean Erwin Chemerinky ,and Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Asher Lopatin, followed by a brief summary of the book. 

“A brilliant exploration of the relationship between law and culture in the context of Judaism. Kwall offers a provocative thesis and impressively analyzes a myriad of contemporary topics. This book is a ‘must read’ not only for all interested in Judaism, but for all who are studying the relationship between law and culture.”

Erwin Chemerinsky Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law
University of California, Irvine, School of Law

The Myth of the Cultural Jew will change the way in which lay people, academics, and Jewish clergy and professionals think about the development of Jewish law. It is the first book to apply to Jewish law the method of cultural analysis used in secular legal studies. This book also has broader implications, for Kwall uses this method to address the critical question for Judaism today -- What kind of Jewish religion and identity will be viable for the future? It is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in Judaism or Jewish law.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
American Jewish University

The Myth of the Cultural Jew is a fascinating book. It is both scholarly and practical, grappling with the challenges that face all of us in the contemporary world. Kwall writes a powerful and relevant message for the religious and non-religious alike. This book will lead you to a deeper understanding of who you are as a Jew in the 21st century.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin President, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School
 Book summary:

A myth exists that Jews can embrace the cultural components of Judaism without appreciating the legal aspects of the Jewish tradition. This myth suggests that law and culture are independent of one another.  In reality, however, much of Jewish culture has a basis in Jewish law. Similarly, Jewish law produces Jewish culture.  A cultural analysis paradigm provides a useful way of understanding the Jewish tradition as the product of both legal precepts and cultural elements. This paradigm sees law and culture as inextricably intertwined and historically specific. This perspective also emphasizes the human element of law’s composition and the role of existing power dynamics in shaping Jewish law.

In light of this inevitable intersection between culture and law, The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition argues that Jewish culture is shallow unless it is grounded in Jewish law. The book develops and applies a cultural analysis paradigm to the Jewish tradition that departs from the understanding of Jewish law solely as the embodiment of Divine command. Her paradigm explains why both law and culture must matter to those interested in forging meaningful Jewish identity and transmitting the tradition.

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